In a recent episode of “Things You Might Not Know,” host Tom Scott talks about Britain’s terrible history with rabies, what Britain has done to eradicate rabies, and how Britain remains free of rabies to this day.
In 1993, the New York Times called rabies a “shared national nightmare” for Britain. For younger viewers, and those outside the UK — say anyone who doesn’t remember the Channel Tunnel opening — “rabies” may just be one of those things you hear about on the news sometimes. But there are a lot of people who are proud of Britain being free of it.
FACT: The requirement for muzzling dogs extended to tiny, tame lapdogs, but not to “sporting” dogs, those used for hunting — because the men writing the laws didn’t want to muzzle their own dogs. (Their dogs were upper class, manly dogs, how could they be rabid?)
FACT: The first ever human vaccine was created for rabies, by Louis Pasteur — the medical genius who gave his name to pasteurisation, among many other things. If you’re at risk these days, you can get vaccinated: but it’s not given as standard in the UK, because, hey, we don’t have rabies — and it’s a better idea to vaccinate the animals that might carry it.
FACT: Before the EU pet travel scheme came into force in 2000, any animal coming into the UK had to be quarantined — completely separated from its owners and other animals — for three months to be sure it wasn’t rabid. Not many people took their pets overseas.